Another time when Catholic leaders ignored a public figure’s support of the abortion and anti-family mentality occurred at the funeral of former Quebec Premier René Levesque, in November 1987. Once more, caution is in order because this incident again involves church-state relations. As explained earlier, even in the best of times different people can view such matters from different perspectives.
Still, I was amazed to hear of a number of bishops gathering in Quebec City’s Cathedral for an official funeral Mass with an eulogy full of praise for the deceased delivered by the President of the Quebec Bishops’ Conference, Msgr. Jean-Marie Fortier of Sherbrooke, on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference.
Granted, René Levesque seemed a likeable sort of person. Knowing him only from a distance via TV, I liked him myself. He appeared jovial, open, folksy, democratic, yet passionately involve3d in the battle for Quebec’s self respect and confidence as a French language nation. But he also cultivated a form of nonchalance which resulted in growing ignorance and ingratitude about the true values of the Quebec heritage, until at last he dismissed a vital part of what was received from the past as useless ballast to be thrown overboard. Thus, he encouraged others – in a province rooted in religion and tradition – to become secular. He helped to replace the rich legacy and the stability of their Catholic faith with the heady but fleeting pleasures and instability of a new religion of politics.
Some people seem to have questioned the funeral because René Levesque was an agnostic and a womanizer who eventually got a divorce and then, in 1979, married his political secretary Corinne Coté in a civil ceremony. But church officials noted that this lack of religious observance in no way disqualified him from a Catholic funeral. Consequently, Rev. Jacques St. Michael, Chancellor of the Quebec City diocese, stated: “There is no reason at all to refuse a church funeral.” (Gazette, November 5, 1987). The Chancellor was right.
A few years ago, a New York diocese refused a church funeral to a notorious Mafia member, perhaps in order to avoid the ostentatious display for which Mafia funerals are known or for some other reason known to them but not to us. In 1931, the German Bishops issued a ruling prohibiting church funerals to members of the Nazi party on the grounds that the party’s philosophy was directly contrary to the Christian faith; the brown shirts had been attending in uniform. The Bishops revoked their decision for “pastoral reasons” in May 1933, after Hitler came to power (January 1933), and many people joined the party for a variety of reasons. But, normally, refusing a funeral occurs only rarely. In principle, anyone baptized a Catholic, good or bad, has a right to a Catholic funeral if it is requested by the family, (whether that was the case with Levesque, I don’t know). The question then is not whether René Levesque had a right to a funeral, but whether he should have been given this kind of funeral.
Let us not forget that Mr. Levesque launched an assault on family morality. As the Liberal Minister of Health in Quebec in the sixties he blithely set up contraceptive clinics at a time when federal law prohibited them. (The prohibition was not lifted by Parliament until 1968). In November 1976, as leader of a party newly come to power, he ordered his Justice Minister to suspend the legal proceedings against the abortionist Henry Morgentaler. Shortly afterward his Health Minister put the government’s stamp of approval on abortion, first by permitting Morgentaler’s “clinic,” and then by promoting and financing provincial “health clinics” with abortion facilities of their own. This measure also flouted the federal law which prohibited abortions outside accredited hospitals.
In summary, René Levesque’s actions led to:
- Bypassing the many Quebec hospitals where Catholic doctors upheld traditional morality by shunning abortions;
- Making abortions available as a final step in the anti-child syndrome, thus enhancing the contraceptive mentality. Quebec’s sterilization rate became the highest in Canada, with Canada’s becoming the highest in the world (1984). Abortion and contraception together transformed Quebec from the province with one of the highest birthrates in the world to one with the lowest (1.3 some even say 1.2), thereby endangering its very survival as an ethnic and cultural entity.
- Allowing Morgentaler to transform himself from a criminal into a progressive and enlightened pioneer. This sent a favourable signal to the English language media and promoters of socialist and feminist causes. Morgentaler’s success in flouting federal law in Quebec strengthened his argument that “the law is an ass” and that if you don’t like it, you can change it by breaking it. His immunity from prosecution in Quebec permitted him invaluable leverage in the other provinces when he launched his Canada-wide crusade in 1983.
My own tentative explanation for the behaviour of the Quebec bishops is that Levesque’s contribution to undermining family morality was little noticed, or forgotten, or considered trifling by people preoccupied with language, economic and political justice, and self-determination.
It seems to me that if a church funeral was indeed obligatory in this case, a simple one conducted by the rector of the Cathedral would have satisfied requirements. Instead of that, there was as much pomp and ceremony as if a Christian hero were being laid to rest.
Christians who invite and honour pro-abortion public figures issue mixed signals. Still, such incidents are not always the result of a deliberate lack of orthodoxy as some people may think. Ignorance or a variant approach or policy also plays a role. After all, prudence is the virtue ruling action, and different people may have different views how to exercise it.
Nevertheless, those who do have a tradition of bucking Catholic moral teaching are likely to use such invitations as a way of demonstrating their “independence.” Such I take to be the invitation last November of the Centre for Catholic Experience at St. Jerome’s College, Kitchener, to Father Robert Drinan, S.J., to speak on nuclear war, the economy and the rights of women.
What could be wrong in inviting a Jesuit priest, one may ask? Well, this Dr. Drinan has been more than outspoken about his belief that abortion laws are unenforceable, that the law, therefore, should have nothing to say about abortion, and that abortion decisions should be left to the individual. He propounded these views in the sixties and acted on them during his ten years (1971-1981), as a member of the American House of Representatives. Except for a few occasions when he was absent, his voting record shows that of the 35 votes that took place in one or other aspect of abortion during those years, Congressman Drinan voted for abortion and against the pro-life position 32 times. This record has gained its author wide notoriety in the United States, making him one of Catholicism’s chief counter-witnesses. Needless to say, he claims he doesn’t approve of abortions.
If The Interim threw darts and passed out laurels as the Toronto Star does, it would certainly take aim at the organizers of the Ontario English Catholic Teacher’s Association (OECTA), conference on Christian Curriculum Development last November – together with some of the principal speakers. Dr. David Roy of Montreal said that, as a member of a hospital advisory committee on abortion and another on euthanasia, he had become convinced that both abortion and euthanasia were necessary in certain circumstances. After his address, many of those present stood up and gave him a round of applause.
A laurel should go to John Devlin, a trustee of the Huron-Perth R.C. Separate School Board, who did not stand up and applaud. Instead he thought, “God help us.” Subsequently, he approached the Ontario Separate School Board Trustees Association to hold workshops on abortion during its spring convention. “As Catholic educators,” he said, “we are charged with the responsibility of seeing that those in our schools receive proper instruction by teachers who exemplify the Church’s teaching on this issue.
Dr. Roy, a priest of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, has been pitting his own private opinions on issues such as abortion, euthanasia and artificial insemination against those of the Church’s Magisterium for over ten years. In 1983, when I attended a presentation of his in Ottawa, he targeted total opposition to abortion as one strategy which deserves the title “unacceptable.” He claimed that the present moral crisis is such that it is no longer possible to found an ethics on “divine authority.” (See the article “The Canadian Council of Christians and Jews,” The Interim, February 1985).
The O.E.C.T.A organizers among whom Sister Sheila McAuliffe, CND, seems to play a prominent role, also invited “ambassador” David MacDonald, a former United Church minister and former MP from PEI, who spent a few years as Canada’s representative on aid to the starving people of Ethiopia. MacDonald was re-elected MP in the November 1988 federal election but this time from Rosedale (Toronto). He blames “anti-abortionists” for defeating him in 1981 and driving him off the Island. He deserved to be driven away. He is a prime example of those who are concerned about the plight of the weak and suffering, but who sees no problem with killing pre-born babies.
In passing, it may be mentioned that another speaker, Sister Anne Lonergan, lectured on “Eco-feminism and the new cosmology.” Lonergan described this as a mixture of feminism, socialism, Matthew Fox’s new ‘religion’ and the emerging universe of Thomas Berry. During the “litany for the healing of the Earth,” the assembly prayed to Gaia, goddess of Earth (on behalf of mosquitoes, flies, whales and other non-human creatures). This ‘New Age’ ideology is spreading rapidly.
However, Sister did not reveal that for ‘New Age’ people there is no sin; we are all gods and abortion is not only perfectly acceptable but encouraged to help cleanse humanity by lowering the world’s population.